Friday, May 27, 2016

Inspirations for the Weekend...

This Memorial Day weekend it's important to remember the true meaning of this day, and not to be confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is about remembering our men and women who died in active military service. Veterans Day celebrates and acknowledges all of our military, past and present, living or dead. 

However for many families, as well as my own; Memorial Day serves as a weekend to gather and visit all of our deceased loved ones, military and civilians. We also remember our loved ones with an outdoor celebration of good food and drink. Have a wonderful holiday weekend, and please drive safe. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Cooking is Cheaper than Therapy: Strawberry-Pretzel Dessert

Really. No, really. I really do know how to cook from scratch without boxes, bottles, and bags - - and fairly accomplished, if I do say so myself (pat-pat-pat). I believe that every good cook should accomplish at least one of Julia Child's recipes. I have accomplished Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon and pâte à choux for eclairs and cream puffs - - and I can whip up many of the French sauces - - if necessary. My first Julia recipe, Potatoes Lyonnaise, was taught to me by my dad for my Girl Scout cooking badge when I was in 4th grade

In 1975, I was making hummus before many knew what hummus was by 2005. Not a brag, just a lucky fact. Living in Portland, Oregon for awhile during my "youth" gave me an opportunity to cook with a couple of women from the Lebanese community who gave cooking classes. This was all new ground to me, and especially new to my tastebuds. You see in my hometown and especially in the 1970's, I could barely find the ingredients to prepare hummus, tabbouleh, pita bread (from scratch), koftka, baklava, tzatziki, to name a few of the wonderful recipes we learned to prepare. Today I can walk into any one of my local supermarkets and finally find the ingredients. 

In 1999, two days after my divorce was granted in court, I found myself on a plane to Bondi Junction, an eastern suburb of Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, Australia. In fact, I was staying in the Hasidic neighborhood of Bondi, and it just happened to be the start of Passover. I had to learn rather quickly on how to prepare all things with matzoh, if I was going to survive. I am proud to say that my matzoh balls float - no sinkers. Since that experience, I have added to my kosher repertoire of kugel, charoset, rugelach, and of course - - latkes! 

Recently, I ventured into the world of Dim Sum. Making dough has never been my favorite thing to do, and especially with limited success (This is where Julia Child would have to flunk me - yeast dough). However, I was pleased when one Sunday morning I took upon the task of making my own Char Siu Bao. Also known as, a Cantonese steamed barbecue-pork-filled buns. Those little suckers are difficult to roll, but with practice I found the technique. 

So, I really do know how to cook, but once awhile one rather yearns for some of the old comfort foods that mom and Betty Crocker use to make, and even some of those timeless recipes from the Junior League recipe books.

Every Junior League or Junior Club has their favorite recipes and eventually they put them in a cookbook for sale. Back in the "day" when I was a Junior Club member of Walla Walla, Washington, we often had potlucks where our favorites would show up, and of course someone always brought the Strawberry Pretzel Dessert. This was at least 30 years ago when I was first introduced to this "delicacy," and frankly I have been craving it once a year, especially when the warmer weather sets in. 

Oh, and let me just add that I have really taken a lot of heat for this recipe since it is made with a popular gelatin, but whatever ... 

Photo from Pinterest

First, let's make the crust.

1 1/2 cups crushed pretzels
1/2    cup sugar
1/2    cup of melted butter

Stir sugar and melted butter into the crushed pretzels. Press the pretzel mixture into a 9"x 13" pan. Bake for six minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool - completely. 

6 oz package of strawberry-flavored gelatin
2 cups of boiling water
2 packages (10 oz each) of frozen strawberries, no sugar added - leave frozen*

Dissolve gelatin with the boiling water. Cool slightly. Stir in the frozen strawberries. Set aside. 

8 oz carton of non-dairy whipped topping - thawed 
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar

Combine the whipped topping, cream cheese, and sugar. Spread the creamy mixture on top of the pretzel crust. Top with the strawberry gelatin mixture. Set for 2 hours. Cut into squares when ready to serve. 

*Note: if available 4 cups of fresh sliced strawberries may be used instead of the frozen strawberries. However, if you are using fresh you will need to add 1 1/2 cups of very chilled water to the warm gelatin mixture to assist in setting up, and then add the strawberries. 

It's always fun to take a recipe and "elevate" it a bit, and there are no rules that you are stuck with serving this dessert in a pan.  For special occasions, and especially picnics and outdoor entertaining, individual servings in jars or even stemless wine glasses are perfect. However, instead of baking the crust in the containers, bake the crust in a separate pan. When cool, break up the crust and sprinkle it into your individual parfait containers.
Photo from Pinterest

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Tea Party to Dye For

You can pour yourself a cup of tea, if you wish. 

Are you wanting an "aged" vintage look in fabrics, lace, and even paper? Look no more than to your kitchen. It's an old art I use to do "many moons" ago when I wanted new fabric and lace to look aged when working with hand crafts. It's really fool proof and no real recipe to get the vintage appeal you are looking for. 

"Aged" paper and hang tags are perfect for scrapbooking projects, journals, place cards, and gift tags. I am using my hang tags for retail sale price tags, since I couldn't hop back into time to an early 20th century Paris flea market and grab a few. 
Passementarie Price Tags
The best results for fabric dying is good ol' cotton muslin, as well as cotton lace. Cotton prints work fine if you are looking to soften and muting some of the more brilliant colors of prints. Of course, I would always do a test square of fabric first when using the prints for the desired effect. Fool proof. 

First, you will need five tea bags (or four or six). I have found usually tea bags that have mainly black pekoe tea works the best. About 2 or 3 cups of hot water, and again this depends on how much you want to dye. If you have a lot of fabric, just use more water and more tea bags. Depending on how much of a tea staining solution you are working with, an old glass casserole pan or an old plastic storage container will work for small projects and the kitchen sink will work with larger ones. You can leave the bags in the tea and work around them or remove them depending on your space. I personally like to take the bags and give them a good squeeze back into the solution before I dump them. Fool proof. 
Selected projects from Pinterest
Now, toss your items that you want stained into your solution and let it do its magic. Leave your paper, lace, or fabric in longer for a darker color or less for a lighter touch of vintage. When finished, wring out the lace or fabric, and with paper products, just let them drip off back into the tea solution. Fool proof. 

Let your selected fabric and lace dry outside or on a rack in an area with a good air flow. For paper, let dry on several paper towels or an old cloth towel you don't care if it gets stained, as well. Depending on the weight of the paper, it may take a day or two to dry, and be sure and give the paper and/or tags a turn here and there. Fool proof. 

Coffee is also a good source to use to "age" fabric and paper. Use your leftover breakfast coffee, or I use to keep a small jar of cheap coffee crystals for such a task. Always use more coffee than as per the instructions on the jar. If you want to add a little something special to either of your tea or coffee dying brews, add a hint of liquid vanilla and a few sprinkles of cinnamon; and it will make your project smell - - well - - your project will smell rather tasty. Also, I have noticed that coffee will add a coffee house aroma to your dyed projects, where the smell of tea is very faint or not at all. Fool proof. 

Did I happen to mention that tea dying is, "Fool proof?" 

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Rising of the Ol' Mississippi: Pot Roast, That Is.

The New York Times wrote about it, and ABC's Good Morning America reported on it - - it's the old "secret" recipe of the Mississippi Roast that is moving faster than the lips of the missionary ladies at a tea party. 

Ripley, Mississippi resident, Robin Chapman is the unlikely star behind the Mississippi Roast, a slow-cooking roast with surprisingly simple ingredients where it first made it's place in the church cookbook "Sharing Our Best," put together by the Beech Hill Church of Christ congregation. 

I do not hide that I am a "convenient vegetarian." I eat no lamb. I eat no pork, unless it is bacon and some Italian sausage. I eat very little chicken (white, not on bone), and I eat beef about once - twice a month. While I own a tried and true pot roast recipe that I keep in my head and have used for over 35 years, this recipe still intrigued me. 

So last week I finally decided to try it. I will admit, it took me a few months of reading over and over the ingredients. Now, I am the first one to say if you taste a recipe and you like it, or a recipe sounds good to you, follow the original instructions first, eat it and then tweak it later accordingly to taste. A pet peeve of mine is when someone omits ingredients, changes ingredients, and then gripes the recipe wasn't very good - - well, duh. Case in point - - 

A co-worker raved and raved over my grandmother's carrot cake I brought to a potluck. I wasn't keen about giving out the recipe, but I finally did for this particular co-worker who even asked if she could take an extra slice of this moist rich cake home. When she saw the recipe, she griped that it had a cup of vegetable-type oil in it. It overwhelmed her so much that I finally said, "Either make the cake or don't."  She did, and cut the oil by half, to which she would later tell me that she baked the cake, but griped at me that the cake was too dry and she didn't understand why. By now you must be wanting the ingredients to the Mississippi Roast. 

Photo from NY Times

Now don't do what the New York Times did. Sam Sifton over thought the recipe and added mayonnaise, dill, buttermilk, and it just got ridiculous. Sorry Sam. Again, stick with the basic recipe, and just walk away for about eight hours. You will need: 

In order, place in your oven slow cooker or crock pot

4-5 lb beef chuck roast. 
1 pack of dry Ranch Dressing Mix - 1 oz. size (Do not add buttermilk and mayo like Sam did)
1 pack of dry Au Jus Gravy Mix  - 1 oz. size
1 stick of butter
4-5 whole pickled pepperoncinis 
1/4 cup (or more if you like spicy) of the juice from the pepperoncini jar.

Photo from Pinterest
Sprinkle the dry mixes over the roast. Add the full stick of butter. Place the pepperoncinis on top. Sprinkle over the pickled pepperoncini juice. Put lid on pot. Place the oven slow cooker on 250 degrees or crock pot on low setting. Walk away. Seriously. Walk away and come back in about 5 hours or so. Let it cook for a few hours or more until the roast just falls apart. I gave the roast almost seven hours of crock pot cooking time. It's really fool proof. 

How to serve? As a typical pot roast and add potatoes or rice on the side, and be sure and use the gravy it makes. Add a touch of water or pickle juice to thin to desired consistency, if you wish. A popular way is to use it as sandwiches between a baguette like an Italian beef sandwich topped with melted provolone cheese. I think the next time I prepare it, I am going to use tortillas for one of the meals and make tacos, adding fresh chopped onions and cilantro on the side. 

All I can say is I have a new pot roast recipe that I will no doubt expound upon, leaving my former recipe in the cobwebs of my mind. 

My results - right out of the oven. 
Wine pairing? Even wine writer, Eric Asimov of The New York Times chimed in on this recipe and suggests a red wine, of course, and with many choices. He suggests to use an Italian red with plenty of acidity such as a Brunello di Montalcino, Nero d’Avola, or even a Ripasso Valpolicella from Veneto. Want to look at a Spanish wine, try a Garnacha-based wine, or if you want to head to France, once again a grenche from southern Rhône, like a Gigondas or a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Even better, a Malbec from Argentina, or Walla Walla, Washington  will be perfect. 

My choice would be a Ripasso or a Malbec. Cheers! 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Inspirations for the Weekend ...

"Sometimes not getting what you want is a brilliant stroke of luck.” ― Lorii Myers

It's Friday the 13th. Will you or won't you have a brilliant stroke of  luck? 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Decor Trends: Do you or do you not?

Since I have been working from home, I have become more in tune to my surroundings. I am not really one to follow "trends." I never have been. I wear basic black, and I wear cheap cotton shirts. However, I spend my dollars on classic styles of purses, shoes, and coats - items that will last me a lifetime - with hopes to never replace. Maybe I am the same with my home. 

It is rare that I buy new furniture. I buy new "old" furniture and accessories. Always have. I inherited many pieces of old vintage furniture and just continued to add to the style. I would say my home furnishings are a cross between Victorian funeral home "parlour" + BoHo-Chic.  

I was doing "shabby chic" before it was "in style." Who knew? I don't throw away old perfume bottles or bath powder containers where "puffs" were used. French tapestries and old museum prints framed in gaudy gold frames are on the walls, and old "girly" looking wicker is in the bedroom with some classic art nouveau scattered around. It's me. I am not going to change, no matter what the "trends," state. 

It's not to say that I don't check in with the trends, because I do. It's usually about curiosity. Sometimes the fortune tellers of trends will almost reaffirm that my surroundings are "cool," after all - along with bringing me an idea, or two. 

The Glamily Room 
For 2016, House Beautiful says to make your family room a "Glamily Room." Make it sexy, but functional. Wing back chairs and ottomans upholstered with old quilts and gunny sacks. Stacks of books can be displays for candles and treasures from Mother Nature. We love our chandeliers, but 2016 is the year for the statement hanging pendant. 
Rose Quartz Looking Glass Orbs (Decoist)
Pedestals are in, but make them functional. The tall pedestal in the shape of a Roman column or an old rectangle box, should be primed to exhibit a Greek sculpture, a fern, or a roost for the house cat.  
A perch for the cat or the fern (Interior Design)
We're back to pastels, but think warm pastels, not baby pastels. According to Interior Design it's about the dusty pink you would find in a piece of rose quartz, or the soft blue color in a robin's egg. Steel grays are out, but warmer shades of gray are in especially when blended with warm and rich metallic accents of gold and copper. Or;

Whatever makes you comfortable and brings you peace. Comfy can still be attractive. 

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